Sermon, not autonomy, for Farooq
Hands that rock cradle tote guns
Sunshine man in clouded contest
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, July 4 
The Vajpayee Cabinet today rejected the autonomy resolution adopted by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, saying it was not conducive to national interests.

The government agreed with the observations of NDA partners and the major Opposition parties that pre-1953 status cannot be given to Jammu and Kashmir. The Cabinet argued that accepting the resolution would have �set the clock back and reversed the natural process of harmonising the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir with the integrity of the nation�.

Chief minister Farooq Abdullah left Delhi in a huff. He is meeting party leaders in Srinagar tomorrow. Earlier, the Prime Minister broke the news to Abdullah and tried to convince him to stay back in the coalition.

The government had made up its mind soon after Vajpayee returned from Europe. Initially, the Centre was in two minds as it knew that a soft stand would please the global powers, which are unhappy over Delhi�s tough stance on Kashmir.

But realising that accepting the package could spark similar demands from other states, the Centre decided against delaying the decision. A section in the government had earlier argued that the announcement could be timed with the birth centenary celebrations of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee on July 6.

The Cabinet response to the resolution was guarded. It began by saying that �the government is committed to the promotion of federal harmony by ensuring a partnership of the Centre and the states as laid down in the agenda of the NDA�. Home minister L.K. Advani, explained that such devolution of power to the states could be worked out in the Inter-State Council.

The printed Cabinet response doubted whether the resolution was really within the jurisdiction of the Constitution. �Most of the recommendations contained in the report seek to reverse the application of constitutional provisions to the state which may not only adversely affect the interests of the people of the state, but would also tantamount to removal of some of the essential safeguards enshrined in our Constitution,� the Cabinet said.

The Centre pointed to the 1975 agreement between Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi, according to which �provisions of the Constitution of India, already applied to the state of Jammu and Kashmir without adaptation or modification, are unalterable�.

Advani said: �When we examined the report, we felt it was not just the question of autonomy. It was a plea to the Centre that the pre-1953 position be restored. The report in fact even questioned the constitutionality of all steps taken by the Centre after 1953.�

He dropped enough hints that the resolution ran against the spirit of the Constitution. The autonomy report, according to Advani, has even criticised the existence of Article 370.    

Patna, July 4 
Women are trading rolling pins for guns in Bihar�s badlands.

A trainer�s whistle shatters the early morning calm in the killing fields of Gaya. Within seconds, the fallow lands on the banks of the Sone are taken over by an army of women, guns casually slung on their soldiers as they jog along the rugged stretches.

These women are all from upper caste households who have gone on the defensive following the government�s decision to arm poor villagers. The central Bihar villages which are dominated by the Bhumihars, Rajputs and Brahmins interpreted the announcement as another attempt by the government to rob them of their sleep.

Unwilling to take chances, the men have decided to keep the entire family on toes and train them in the art of killing.

�When Laloo Yadav announced that poor backwards needed to be guarded against the feudal forces, we got the signal,� said Rabin Pandey, a resident of Turi village in Gaya.

For the villagers living in Gaya and in neighbouring Jehanabad, the nights haven�t been the same since the backward classes vowed to avenge last month�s Mianpur massacre. Over 40 people were mowed down by the Ranbir Sena in a macabre show of vendetta violence.

News that Laloo had visited Mianpur last Sunday to select 22 boys for arms training added to their apprehension.

The fear of a counter-attack by the Naxalite groups has sparked panic among the ordinary villagers. But they are not willing to go down without a fight.

Around 7 am, a group of 20 uppercaste women from six villages assemble at Manipur village near Bhojpur, across the Sone from Jehanabad.

Escorted by the men, the would-be warriors trudge for an hour along the Arwal-Aurangabad road to a desolate field by the Sone, the venue of their arms training camp.

The mock-war zone is hidden from the public eye by a cluster of trees from which hang straw dummies � targets for the female assassins.

The first couple of shots left some of them shaken. �It is too hot and I almost burnt my palm. My eyes are burning from the smoking barrel,� said 22-year-old Ratna Devi. Others are more confident. �These are teething troubles and we will get used to all this,� said Gayatri Devi, mother of two daughters in Paligunge. �We have to protect ourselves and our children.�

The men are encouraging their wives and daughters to take up arms. �The women have to be trained and provided arms for they are often alone at home,� said Somesh Rai, a Bhumihar. But he denied that they had any connection with the Ranbir Sena. �For god�s sake, please don�t bracket us with them,� he pleaded.

Police sources in Arwal said the villagers could be using their licensed guns to train the women or may have amassed illegal arms from Munger or Samastipur. The sources, however, admitted that the villagers are seething at the government�s proposal to arm the Dalits as they fear the weapons will be misused.

Even before Laloo�s announcement, the backward villages have been under protection from the Left extremist groups.

Barely 10 km from Mianpur is Bathe, where the Ranbir Sena had shot dead 61 Dalits in 1997. Although the scarred village is manned by a police outpost, villagers of a nearby Dalit hamlet inhabited by Kahars said they have a special protection group. �We have special guests at night identified as �Lalsalamwallahs�. They guard us throughout the night,� said Sahu Ram.

Amid the intensifying caste war, the government�s announcement sparked furore in the Assembly today. �Give them bread instead of arms,� said BJP leader Sushil Modi.

Laloo, however, stuck to his guns. �What is the use of giving them bread when there is so much insecurity in their lives? The arms training will ensure village security,� he said.    

Calcutta, July 4 
The ruling Left Front today nominated Kanti Ganguly as its mayoral candidate, raising the stakes in the battle for control of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. A secret ballot to elect the mayor will be held on Saturday.

The Front also decided to put up the CPI�s Purnendu Sengupta as its nominee for the post of CMC chairman. The decision was taken at an hour-long Left Front committee meeting this afternoon.

This was preceded by a short session of the CPM�s Calcutta District Committee (CDC) which, too, had to recommend the two names under pressure from the top leadership.

Sources say the district committee was upset after Alimuddin Street, party headquarters, chose Ganguly from South 24 Parganas district as Calcutta�s mayoral candidate.

�It is true that Ganguly is from the party�s South 24 Parganas district unit and not a CDC member. But we always have to go by the majority decision,� said a CDC secretariat member.

Observers say CDC had to toe the Alimuddin Street line since it could not offer an alternative to Ganguly, who made a name for himself as a man of action by spearheading Operation Sunshine to clear Calcutta�s streets of hawkers. Outgoing mayor Prasanta Chatterjee could have been its choice had he not lost the election.

Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta announced that the selection of the two was unanimous.

Giving enough indication that the Front was not confident of getting the two elected, Dasgupta said: �We are not sure of victory but have decided to contest the mayoral election as a matter of principle. We cannot simply allow the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine to go unopposed.�

He was also categorical about the Front�s stand on horse-trading. �We shall not encourage any manipulation to get our candidates elected,� he added.

Against this backdrop, the CPM appears solely dependent on cross-voting at the mayoral election. But cross-voting is also a distant possibility with 14 Congress councillors still sticking to their decision of staying away from the election.

The Front has only 61 councillors in its fold. On the other side, the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine claimed to have 66 councillors with five Independents joining it.

Kanti Ganguly himself did not sound confident of victory. �The Front has chosen me to contest the election. But I am not definite about its outcome,� he said.

State PWD minister and RSP leader Khsiti Goswami said: �The only option is left with the Independents who are expected to cross-vote for Front nominees despite their declared allegiance to the Trinamul Congress.�

Trinamul leaders alleged that the CPM was trying to buy votes.    

Temperature: Maximum: 35.7�C (+3) Minimum: 27�C (+1) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 90%, Minimum: 54% Today: Hot and humid night and day, with slight rain in some parts. Sunset: 6.22 pm Sunrise: 5.00 am    

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